John Day rolled film on a wide range of screen projects before establishing company Matte-Box Films in 1980. He went on to mix a busy trans-Tasman commercials career with directing gigs on a number of non-fiction titles (The Power of Music, The Hunt for the Pink and White Terraces), plus ghost movie The Returning. Day passed away on 7 January 2015.
There's something really satisfying about getting the right image for the scene … be it commercials, movies, whatever, the combination of all the crew's work is there in front of you, and all the time you're working out how to shape it, capture it. John Day
When Mount Tarawera erupted on 10 June 1886, it took over 100 lives. It was also thought to have destroyed the Pink and White Terraces on Lake Rotomahana, then hailed as the eighth wonder of the natural world. This documentary follows a team of New Zealand and American scientists — led by Kiwi geologist Cornel de Ronde — as they scour the lake floor, to see if any traces of the legendary structures remain. Also examined are the area's history, and the lead-up to the eruption. In 2018 de Ronde robustly criticised a theory that the remains of the terraces were now partly on land.
Monstrous spiders, dragon-aided epic battles, endangered hobbits and final farewells ... the finale of the Lord of the Rings trilogy boldly upped the ante. Although the first two films had excited viewers, critics and accountants, Return of the King sealed Peter Jackson's place in movie legend. Reviewers praised it with gusto and the film won a staggering 11 Oscars, a total matched only by Titanic and Ben-Hur. Return anointed a Hollywood empire in the Wellington suburb of Miramar. The box office figures weren't half bad, and nor was the effect on New Zealand tourism.
The second Lord of the Rings installment sees hobbit Frodo Baggins continuing his mission to destroy the ring. Meanwhile the Fellowship is breaking apart, and an epic night battle ensues at Helm's Deep. The film marked a star turn by Gollum, the emaciated Andy Serkis-voiced creature whose realisation was a cinema landmark and a triumph for the design and special effects team. Alongside praise for the film's pace and spectacle, The Two Towers broke international opening records, before going on to outgross Fellowship of the Ring, and win two technical Oscars.
The Fellowship of the Ring was the film that brought Peter Jackson's talents to a mass international audience. A year after its release, the first instalment of his adaptation of Tolkien's beloved tale of heroic hobbits was the seventh most successful film of all-time. Critic David Ansen (Newsweek) was one of many to praise the fan-appeasing Frodo-centric take, for its "high-flying risks: it wears its earnestness, and its heart, on its muddy, blood-streaking sleeve." At 2002's Academy Awards, Weta maestro Richard Taylor became the first Kiwi to win two Oscars on one night.
This stylishly high camp melodrama from directors Stewart Main and Peter Wells won acclaim, after debuting at the 1993 Cannes Film Festival. In the imaginary 19th-century town of Hope, draper Dorothea Brooks (Jennifer Ward-Lealand) is desperate to save her sister from the clutches of opium, sex and the dastardly Fraser. She begs hunky migrant Lawrence Hayes to help; but complications ensue. Inspired partly by 1930s and 40s Hollywood melodramas, Desperate Remedies was sumptously shot by Leon Narbey (Whale Rider). Richard King writes about the film here.
On the heels of Issues (1990), More Issues offered more of the same satirical takes on local and international current affairs. It pokes fun at the advent of news-presenting personalities like Judy Bailey, Richard Long and Paul Holmes - such a prominent feature of NZ TV at the time. Politicians Ruth Richardson and Robert Muldoon also featured regularly, and celebs such as Oprah Winfrey and Rachel Hunter made appearances. Issues of the day included Martin Crowe's upcoming nuptials, the first Gulf War, and Māori land claims.
Auckland band Herbs could have released their new album in the comfortable confines of an Auckland nightclub. Instead, they travelled to Ruatoria — a troubled and divided East Coast town where turmoil surrounding a Rastafarian sect had resulted in assaults, kidnappings and firebombed churches. Lee Tamahori and John Day's documentary captures an emotional experience for band and locals as they meet at Mangahanea Marae, in an attempt to shift the focus from disunity to harmony. This footage also yielded the award-winning Sensitive to a Smile music video.
Herbs visited the troubled East Coast town of Ruatoria in 1987, bringing music and aroha. They left with a documentary and this music video, which shows the band meeting and performing for the locals. Both The Power of Music and the music video were co-directed by Lee Tamahori (Once Were Warriors ) — in one of his earliest turns as director —and cinematographer John Day (Room that Echoes). The ode to love and harmony was judged Best Music Video at the 1987 New Zealand Music Awards.
This music video features Satellite Spies as the headline band at a high school ball. Unusually for a local music video made in the 80s, it features a scene-setting intro sequence before the song begins: amidst the excited throngs, a boy struggles to work up the courage to ask his crush for a dance. The second single off the band's debut LP Destiny In Motion, 'I Wish I'd Asked' failed to chart, despite the band agreeing it was the standout song. After hearing the track, Mark Knopfler gave Satellite Spies the nod to support Dire Straits when they played in New Zealand in 1986.
"I'm gonna build a room that echoes, around and around and around with its own sound." Peking Man's career peaked in 1985 with 'Room That Echoes', a number one hit that saw the band dominate the 1986 music awards. Directed by John Day, the surrealistic video features animated computer graphics of the afore-mentioned room, slowly building wall by wall and tracking against a background of stars. Margaret Urlich is the only band member present, appearing as a lone silhouetted figure dancing across a checkerboard floor.
Praising novel The Scarecrow, one critic argued that author Ronald Hugh Morrieson had melded genres together into “a brilliant, hallucinatory mixture distinctively his own". The movie adaptation is another unusual melding; a coming of age tale awash with comedy, nostalgia, and a touch of the gothic. Taranaki teen Ned (Jono Smith) is worried that the mysterious arrival in town (US acting legend John Carradine) has murderous designs on his sister. The masterful narration is by Martyn Sanderson. The result: the first Kiwi film to win official selection at the Cannes Film Festival.
The Grunt Machine began life in May 1975 as a pop culture show for 12-20 year olds playing four days a week at 5.30pm. Presented by Andy Anderson, it featured music and reporter based items. Pulled in August, it returned in September as a much hipper late Friday night rock show fronted by David Jones. The 1976 season started with Paul Holmes (in his first presenting role) and featured a Split Enz special for its first show. Fellow DJ John Hood took over later in the year (lying on cushions to do his links). The final Grunt Machine aired in December 1976.
Seven Days was designed by producer Des Monaghan to bridge the current affairs gap between the NZBC and TV One. As well as putting the heat on local politicians, it turned its attention to major international events. Major stories included Ian Fraser’s trip to Vietnam to cover the last days before the fall of Saigon and Ian Johnstone’s three-part look at apartheid-era South Africa ahead of the 1976 All Back tour. For its third and final year, the focus changed to observational documentaries and laid the groundwork for TVNZ’s in-house documentary unit.
Current affairs show Gallery took on controversial topics of the day, most famously in a Brian Edwards interview which solved a Post Office industrial dispute live on-air. Produced by Des Monaghan, it began as a studio-based programme that discussed political issues, but was soon expanded. Edwards’ confrontational style of interrogating public figures was new to New Zealand TV, and polarised viewers. It saw Edwards (the "mad mauler") become a household name, and earned him a reputation as a hardline interviewer. He was succeeded as host by David Exel.
The iconic all-things-rural show is the longest running programme on New Zealand television. With its typical patient observational style (that allows stories of people and the land to gently unfold) it’s an unlikely broadcasting star, but New Zealanders continue, after 50 plus years, to tune in. Amongst the bucolic tales of farming, fishing and forestry, there are high country musters, floods, organic brewing, falconry, tobacco farming, as well as a fencing wire-playing farmer-musician, a radio-controlled dog, and Fred Dagg and the Trevs.
When television began broadcasting in Auckland in 1960, the news consisted of a days old bulletin from the BBC in London. A locally-compiled bulletin began before the end of the year, with occasional locally-filmed items. From 1962 to 1969 a five minute news summary screened at 7pm, with the longer NZBC Newsreel following at 8. TV news expanded rapidly through the 60s, with the NZBC setting up a network of newsrooms in the main centres. November 1969 marked the first time a shared news broadcast played nationwide, with the launch of the NZBC Network News.